What is the Ajo Chamber of Commerce? I am sure most of us would be able to define it as some entity in town where different decisions are made and many town activities are run. Since I began working for the Chamber, I have realized that it is so much more than that. The organization and the passionate people behind the operation are taking massive strides to benefit Ajo and bring our town to its full potential. The Ajo Chamber of Commerce is re-inventing itself and becoming a center focused primarily in tourism. This concept has some exciting potential benefits to the businesses of Ajo, members of the community as well as the many visitors that pass through the town each year. Let’s look back at how far the Chamber has come in the last few years and the plans for the future.
The Chamber of Commerce is located in the newly renovated Historic Train Depot in the Ajo Plaza. In 2008, the process of bringing the depot to its former glory began. The almost 700 thousand dollar project included the purchase and historic rehabilitation of the Ajo Train Depot by Pima County and the International Sonoran Desert Alliance, Inc., a local non-profit organization based in Ajo. Construction was completed in March of 2013. Until the renovation, the Ajo Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center was located on Highway 85 set back from the road. It was relocated to the train depot making it much more visible from the state transportation corridor used by nearly one million cars traveling annually to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Rocky Point, Mexico.
Upon entering the new visitor center, brochures and maps from towns and attractions all over the state of Arizona can be found. In addition to state information, several new brochures developed by the Ajo Chamber of Commerce marketing committee were developed and are on display. One of the brochures is a walking tour of the Historic Plaza area and discusses the history and architecture of the churches and a few of the old homes in town. There is also a new Ajo town brochure featuring updated pictures and information. Also available is the Ajo scenic loop tour which takes tourists around the back of the New Cornelia open-pit mine. Different sites are highlighted along each milepost in the brochure. The latest addition nearing completion is the bike tour brochure including maps of bike trails in the area with varying levels of difficulty.
Also incorporated in the visitor center is the gift shop brimming with trinkets and treasures representative of the surrounding desert environment. A rustic figurine of a javalina with a mischievous grin or a jackrabbit with long ears and soft whiskers don the many shelves. Take home an original painting with a sprawling desert landscape created by one of the many local artists. Feeling adventurous? Try some of the prickly pear cactus candy. Since the opening in March of 2013, the visitor center and gift shop has welcomed close to 5000 visitors from Ajo, around Arizona and over 46 states as well as International visitors representing more than 21 countries.
This explosion of visitor activity has called for new ideas to attract even more visitors and potential residents as well as improve the appeal of the town with a variety of points of interest and enhanced business customer relations. Within the last few months, the Ajo Chamber has held its monthly membership meetings with a much more constructive approach. Guest speakers discussing interesting topics included a variety of prominent people in our area such as Senator Lynne Pancrazi, House member Lisa Otondo, Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson, and Kimber Lanning from Local First Arizona. The Chamber now boasts over 61 members of businesses and organizations from around the town. The collaboration of the businesses and community members along with the desire to see Ajo thrive is improving substantially. Workshops have been held with focuses on customer service and courtesy as well as ways for businesses to promote themselves through social media.
Another facet the Ajo Chamber is using to promote the area is the development of a marketing plan. This plan comes with the renewed sense of purpose to involve all businesses in the effort to improve the economic climate and lifestyle in the community and also become internationally known for its uniqueness, history, small-town charm and many natural wonders. The goal is an increase in tourism, new homebuyers and investors bringing more revenue to Ajo resulting with the creation of a thriving community and more opportunities for Ajo residents.
Still a work in progress, the marketing committee continues to expand on the Ajo Chamber of Commerce website. It is repositioning Ajo as a destination for tourists of all kinds, potential job seekers, retirees and homebuyers. The site features a community calendar with on-going activities in the town. The website is a beneficial tool for the businesses in Ajo as they are exclusively featured on the website. It also emphasizes our best assets including our proximity to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, the open-pit mine belonging to Freeport McMoran Inc., as well as our historic Spanish Colonial architecture and rich history. It also provides information about the Sonoran Desert and the many natural resources nearby.
Ajo was also recently featured in Big Blend magazine and participated in their live-feed internet broadcast from the Chamber of Commerce office. Many long-time residents and business owners were interviewed for the broadcast sharing their sentiment for Ajo and experiences during their time in the town. Also highlighted in the interviews were representatives from Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, several community gardens, International Sonoran Desert Alliance and Curley School Artisan Apartments. With over half a million listeners internationally, the broadcast provided the outlet for Ajo to be introduced as an up-and-coming charming and unique destination.
Though still at the beginning stages of this new era for the Ajo, there is such a positive energy around the Ajo Chamber of Commerce which flows from every person involved in the process of making the community a great place to visit, live and work. I cannot help but feel a new excitement and pride for Ajo since being in the middle of the changes and seeing the work being done behind the scenes. As the community of Ajo begins to grow and gain popularity, the Ajo Chamber of Commerce mission statement holds true and represents the beliefs and desires for the businesses and other members of the community as well as the new influx of tourists: “Our mission is to be a unifying force in the effort to create an atmosphere in which businesses can prosper and the citizens of Ajo can be proud.”